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Chinese workers riot, underscoring volatility amid financial woes

Workers surrounded an overturned police car outside a toy factory in Dongguan, China, on Tuesday. Workers surrounded an overturned police car outside a toy factory in Dongguan, China, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
By William Foreman
Associated Press / November 27, 2008
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DONGGUAN, China - It started as a pay dispute at a southern Chinese toy factory. But it quickly turned into a riot as laid-off workers tapped into a network of friends and unemployed laborers who flipped over a police car, stormed into the plant, and smashed office computers.

The latest violent protest to rock China's export machine was still simmering yesterday at the massive plant, which makes Nerf toys for the Pawtucket, R.I.-based company Hasbro Inc. The volatility underscored the urgency of China's efforts to keep stoking an economy weakened by the global financial crisis.

To protect jobs and social stability, the central government recently signed off on a multibillion-dollar stimulus plan. Officials have also been urging factories to avoid large layoffs and to try retraining employees to keep them off the streets.

"When times are bad economically, a small incident can rapidly become a big one," said local Communist Party official Guo Chenming, who was monitoring the situation yesterday outside the restive toy factory in the city of Dongguan.

Tempers began flaring Tuesday when the plant's Hong Kong owner, Kader Holdings Company Ltd., prepared to lay off 216 migrant workers at the factory that employs 6,500. About 80 senior workers claimed they were getting shortchanged on their severance pay, and they mobilized a mob of 500 - mostly other unemployed workers and friends, Guo said.

The workers battled security guards, turned over a police car, smashed the headlights of police motorcycles, and forced their way through the factory's front gate, Guo said. They went on a rampage in the plant's offices, damaging 10 computers, the company said.

The account was confirmed yesterday by several of the 200 or so jobless laborers peacefully milling around the street in front of the four-story factory complex covered in soot-stained white and green tiles.

"The factory's management and the local officials really look down on the workers," said one laid-off worker who would only give his surname, Qiao, because he feared criticizing the company might jeopardize his chance of getting any compensation.

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